Microviews Vol. 14: Kaufman, Wilson, Tyszka

on Friday, October 28, 2011
Somehow I read a couple of happy books. How unlike me. At least I rounded it off with a suitably morose offering. So here you go litnerds; moderate your mood with one of these:

The Tiny Wife by Andrew Kaufman
Andrew Kaufman's geektastic debut All My Friends Are Superheroes is one of those books I like to dip back into whenever I need an emotional power-up. I first bought it on a whim. I'd never heard of the author or the book. But the title spoke to my costume wearing primary school self and to this day it remains one of the most charming, funny and heartwarming little books I've ever read. Now Kaufman is back with another novella that, while not quite as great as Superheroes, has nevertheless cemented his place on my DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) list. Kicking off with the weirdest bank robbery in history - the thief, dressed something like the Scarlet Pimpernel, demands everyone's most personal sentimental item - it follows each of the victims as increasingly absurd things begin to happen in their lives. Tattoos come to life, babies shit money and the protagonist's wife begins to shrink. Imperceptably at first, then faster until she becomes the size of a thimble. The Tiny Wife is a bit more straightforward than Superheroes (it is essentially a meditation on marital discord) but Kaufman still manages to splash enough moments of pure imaginative wonder throughout its eighty-five pages to make it another useful antidote to the daily doldrums.

The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson
The Family Fang had me at the binding. Not quite hardcover, not quite paperback, it is a format with which I can see myself becoming strangely obsessed. Then there's the cover artwork - a mix of Monty Python lettering and late-period Saramago cartoon characters. Win. So what about the book itself? The Family Fang is pretty much a primer on how to totally fuck up your kids. Camille and Caleb Fang are 'performance artists'; their art is the creation of chaos in everyday environments - elaborate, absurd practical jokes. Their kids, A (Annie) and B (Buster) are essential props in each stunt. The story jumps back and forth between descriptions of their various pranks, and the adult lives of the two kids. Annie has become an Academy Award nominated actress, prone to scandal and self-destruction. Buster is a flash-in-the-pan literary star, relegated to playing video games while he struggles with his next novel. The two are drawn back to the Fang world when their respective careers tank. But going home to mum and dad ends in disaster when Camille and Caleb disappear, suspected victims of a serial killer. Has the unthinkable truly happened or is this just another elaborate hoax, the great swansong of the Fang family? Like most comic novels, Wilson struggles to sustain the laughs, but he fills the void with large dollops of empathy and pathos. And while it doesn't quite deliver on what it first promises, The Family Fang was still one of the kindest-hearted, totally loopy books I've read this year.

The Sickness by Alberto Barrera Tyszka
There is a certain skill in being able to unnerve a reader. Ian McEwan has it down pat. So does Patrick McGrath. And then there's all those Eastern European creep-masters: Meyrink, Ungar, Walser et al. For the first half of The Sickness, I though Alberto Tyszka had joined the gang. Alas, this tale of cancer and stalking resolved so unsatisfactorily that I was left shaking my head at the waste of a brilliant setup. The Sickness is, above all else, a family tragedy; the story of a doctor who finds an aggressive brain tumour on his father's scan and struggles to find a way to break the news. Had the book just followed this line, it would have been perfectly beautiful, if very sad. However, Tyszka weaves a subplot of an obsessive hypochondriac patient, Ernesto Duran, who reacts angrily to Dr. Miranda's brush offs, until the doctor's secretary takes it upon herself to answer on his behalf. The email correspondence starts off genuinely discomforting. For a few moments it is even scary. But Tyszka does nothing with it - there is no confrontation, no crescendo. Duran just fades away. As did my interest in the ending, no matter how poignant it might objectively have been. So very, very disappointing.


Post a Comment